Walden/Life in the Woods
Recently came across the interesting story of American poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), and decided to write about it today.
He was an exceptional individual who led a very interesting and experimental life, and his writings have inspired a lot of eminent people including Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and Martin Luther King Jr. His famous essay titled “Civil Disobedience” that justified and advocated disobedience to an unjust state inspired Gandhi in his freedom movement, and Martin Luther King in his fight for Civil Rights.
Thoreau was an adherent of “Transcendentalism” – a philosophical movement popular in the 19th century. Other followers were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, George Ripley, etc. This philosophy stressed on independent thinking, self-discovery, and intuition rather than on following political parties/leaders or organized religion. Transcendentalism was strongly influenced by Indian texts like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Geeta.
What inspired me most about him when I went through his poems and quotes, was that he was a nature lover and an early advocate of preserving the wilderness. He believed that civilization and the wilderness need to co-exist and find a balance with each other.
His most famous book “Walden/Life in the Woods”, was written after he spent two years, two months, and two days in a cabin near Walden Pond in the woods in Massachusetts. He conducted this natural experiment to introspect and gain self-discovery of the world around him. It’s supposed to be a wonderful book, with many incredible insights. Apparently, he also compares the Walden pond to the Ganges river!
He says in the book: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
He emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature as the remedy for overcoming most modern-day problems and advocates a simple life with minimal possessions. All these ideas seem to be very relevant even now, considering all the environmental/sustainability issues the world is facing.
To sum up, Thoreau was a non-conformist who believed in thinking for himself and leading a life in his own way. He said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away” 🙂 😉